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Product Development

Design

Perfect Popcorn Without the Kernels

October 3, 2014

There’s nothing like a delicious buttery-gold bouquet of popcorn in full bloom.  What could disappoint but the unpopped underachievers lurking at the bottom of the bowl, potentially ruining your movie night with a chipped tooth? In Product Development we often seek a more convenient and enjoyable means of snacking, as evidenced by the fun and functional Ooma Bowl. We planned our next item realizing that, no matter how masterful a popper you are, there are often at least a few kernels at the bottom that make grabbing those last few bites of popcorn a less than grand finale.

Popcorn Bowl

Popcorn Bowl

Our Senior Merchandising Manager, Candace Holloway initially spotted the Popcorn Bowl on Etsy some time back.  The designer, Catherine Smith, no longer made her sifting bowl and had no samples she could share with us. Fortunately, she was happy to license her design, which allowed us to recreate her kernel-catching masterpiece. In the spirit of trial and error, this challenged us to re-engineer the bowl, only having a photo to look back at.

Due to the technical precision required for the ceramic bowl, we developed this as a hydraulic pressed stoneware item. This would allow us to execute a sifter that fit perfectly inside the collection compartment at the bottom of the bowl.

Production

Popcorn Bowl

Our first design incorporated the variable large and small holes we had seen in the original bowls image.  After testing on receipt, we found that the smaller holes were simply too small to fit the unpopped kernels, especially given the minor expansion many of them encountered.  We also found that the lid, having been developed as a flat coaster, did not adequately direct kernels into their holes, as they found themselves resting in the spaces between.  Finally, the bowl was simply not large enough to compensate for a nice, fully popped (well, with the exception of the reluctant poppers at the bottom) bowl of popcorn.  With this valuable insight, we went back to ceramicist to make some much needed changes.

Popcorn Bowl

Popcorn Bowl

A new bowl arrived –larger overall, with all large-size holes and with a domed sifter at the bottom.  We also changed the glaze to something a bit more tactile and unique.  We found, as we made our way through the popcorn, that kernels found their way to the bottom and slid easily along the sides of the bowl or directly onto the lid, passing through the bottom holes as they rolled along.  Deciding on hole size can be a tough process – too large and edible bits of popcorn end up in the bottom compartment, too small and the kernels don’t make it through.

Popcorn Bowl

We were quite happy with where we landed on size – removing the kernels without taking too many tasty morsels along with them.  This Popcorn Bowl did a much better job catching kernels, leaving nothing but delicious, fluffy popped corn for us to enjoy as we celebrated victory with nary a kernel in sight.

Popcorn Bowl

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Decoding the Perfect Pour

August 26, 2014

Kris, Danny, & HTML Glasses

Product: HTML Beer Glasses

Research:
I first saw UG’s HTML Beer Glasses in our warehouse – a shipment had just arrived and a few units were pulled out for our Receiving team to quality check. I had no idea what they were for. Honestly, my first thought was, “Why would anyone want a beer glass with weird printing on it?” Then one of the guys explained to me that the idea behind the printing is to help create the perfect pour – ah-hah! That made a lot more sense. So, feeling a bit like an idiot, I researched the seemingly-simply-but-actually-intricate-act of…pouring a beer.

HTML Glasses on Instagram | UncommonGoods

Hypothesis:
My initial thoughts: I will likely learn way more about foam than I ever imagined. I will be able to pour a prettier beer, but with little effect on actual taste. I will take regrettable pictures of myself and co-workers “testing” various possible scenarios.

Experiment:
First step – Grab up various coworkers and head to our friendly neighborhood watering hole.
Second step – Make contact with helpful bartender, Mike. Tell him of our educational needs.
Final step – Drink and make merry!

We headed to the Irish Haven in Sunset Park, Brooklyn for their weekly “Taco Tuesday” night. Despite the busyness, Mike was quite cheerful about both discussing our cool glasses and letting us know how they worked. He poured an IPA into one of our HTML Glasses and a Belgian Wheat beer in the other. Both poured perfectly in line with the glass’s indicators, though we were quick to note a difference after the pour.

HTML Glasses Full | UncommonGoods

Taking a tall drink by bar light is great; taking photos by bar light, not so much.

Turns out, given the height and shape of these glasses, they should be used for ales or lagers. The tall, thin style will keep them colder longer, and the relatively light head those beers come with will be well-showcased by the lean shape. Lighter beers will evaporate more quickly. Something like a good quality ale will work fine in this glass, but when you go lighter, like the Belgian we tried, it will evaporate too quickly and the head will be lost. If pouring a “sturdier,” heavier beer, it would make sense to have a wider glass, as this will allow the beer to breathe more. Those beers tend to have heavier foaming characteristics anyway, so one has to worry less about the head evaporating.

HTML Glasses | UncommonGoods

Mike explained that the quality of the beer also matters. The better the beer, the better the pour, the better the taste. If we poured a typical American ale into one of these glasses, it would likely not retain a good amount of foam on top, regardless of the quality of the pour or the quality of the glasses.

Conclusion:
Beer, in all its forms, is wonderful. But if you want to get the perfect pour of high quality lager or ale, these glasses will show you the way with style.

Design

Video Kitty: Celebrating the Cats of the Internet

June 18, 2014

It has been said that the Internet is the dog park for cat owners. Sure, your kitty isn’t likely to run an obstacle course or act frisky on command. But the web makes a great place for cat lovers of all kinds to swap tips and stories. And when those cute moments do happen? Catch them on video and, boom, you’ve got an instant audience bigger than that spaniel at the dog park ever had. In honor of those compulsively-watchable cats of the Internet, we’ve helped to create the Video Kitty glassware series!

Video Kitty Tumblers | UncommonGoods

Our Product Development team spent countless hours of research, combing through the endless supply of adorable online videos, in order to determine the most charismatic, most popular and most iconic types of celebrity cats.

We then worked with artist Patricia Carlin on how to capture that star quality, with its mix of undeniable cuteness and think-out-side-the-box, sit-inside-the-box attitude.

“Refuses to be Typecast”
That’s right. You can’t pigeonhole a performer of this caliber. Unless you have an actual pigeonhole for it to climb into. Or a shoebox, cereal box, milk carton, or pretty much any container of any size. It’s been proven before that, for a cat to find a place in your heart, it merely needs to find a place in your empty packaging.
Refused to be Typecast

“A Finely Nuanced Performance”
A true cat celebrity is a master of subtlety. Extreme subtlety. Verging on laziness, even. But with the kind of artistic integrity that you’ll never find displayed by their online rivals. That’s right, sloths—we’re calling you out. Because anyone can move slowly, but it takes genius to convey such a total disdain for effort.
A Finely Nuanced Performance

“Ready for a Close-up”
A-List cats maintain a very complex relationship with their fans. They’re not going to pay attention to you just because you ask. But they will occasionally allow a devotee to massage their back, or provide them with food. And those times when a cat stares deeply into your eyes and wonders what you would taste like—that’s a kind of love, isn’t it?
Ready for a Close-up

“Catapults to Stardom”
Ultimately, the cats that reach true stardom are simply different than the rest of us. And not just because we’re different species. No, they are the beautiful ones. The risk takers. The ones with the courage and dignity to carry on, even as the paparazzi revels in their supposed failures. Also, totes LOLZ when tha fuzzy kitteh falls down. ROFL!
Catapults to Stardom

So raise a glass (or a mug) to your favorite feline celebrity, whether it’s online or in your own home.

Maker Stories

Breaking the Mold: Paul Brothe’s Ceramic Compost Container

June 13, 2014

Paul Brothe in his ceramic studio | UncommonGoodsWhen Paul Brothe decided to leave his tech executive career behind for his deep-rooted love of ceramics, he took his ability to keep things simple and applied it to his clean, classic design aesthetic. From sleek, curved candleholders to all-in-one servers, Paul’s designs blend form and function with beautiful handmade craftsmanship.

Paul’s first foray into ceramics was the crafting of a Mother’s Day present when he was six years old. “It was so exciting to me,” says Paul, “It seemed like a natural fit.” He got a job pouring molds at a ceramic factory when he was 13 and kept with it for five years, until it was time to head off into the real world and choose an occupation. Not quite keen on the idea of being a starving artist, Paul received a finance and business degree, often coming back to ceramics in his spare time. After a successful career in tech, Paul decided it was time for a leap of faith and started pursuing it full time.

For his designs, Paul simply looks to history. “We’re still making things that we made 3,000 years ago. We might decorate and market them differently, but the basic elements are the same.” Starting with a classic silhouette, Paul builds on his pieces using inspirations from museums and the world around him, careful not to compromise the original intent. “The seemingly simple are often very difficult, as there is nothing to hide behind, just a basic line, curve, or shape.” This reminder keeps him mindful with his designs, looking to iconic and organic inspiration rather than fads.

Garden Compost Container | UncommonGoodsHis sleek composter is a surprisingly chic example of this, its faux bois surface inspired by the tromp l’oeil effects used on pottery in the 19th century. The silhouette remains simple, but its adornments speak to the purpose of the piece. “I recycle everything,” says Paul, “I wanted to design something that spoke to the idea of why we compost.” A simple gardening spade handle completes the environmentally conscious display.

Energized by his new creative career, Paul continues to explore the medium with the same enthusiasm he felt when he made that first Mother’s Day gift. “Creativity is often trial and error,” says Paul, “Everything around me inspires me. When I am out on the weekend exploring my surroundings, I’ll see a building, a flower, or someone doing something that will inspire me with a new idea.”

Olive Dish | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Barry Rosenthal

June 6, 2014

Barry Rosenthal | UncommonGoods
When our team learned that renowned photographer Barry Rosenthal calls our building, The Brooklyn Army Terminal, home to his studio we couldn’t wait to work with him on a project. Once that project–Pop Top Six Pack Glasses–was ready for our customers’ eyes, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone all about the set. Learning more about Barry’s work and the creative process that lead to the finished product got me, and the blog team, even more excited about having such a talented artist as a neighbor. Knowing that we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out his studio space, our own photographer, Emily, and I made the (very) short journey across the BAT atrium to see where Barry assembles his collections of found artifacts and other objects to create captivating photos.

Join us in exploring a new corner of our building by stepping into Barry Rosenthal’s studio, taking a look at some of his unique work, and finding out what goes on behind the scenes when the camera isn’t clicking.

Barry Rosenthal Art | UnommonGoods

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Design

An Easy Answer to Olive Pit Etiquette

May 15, 2014

Enjoying olives discreetly isn’t always easy. Where do you ditch the pit? In a crumpled napkin? On the side of your hors d’oeuvre plate for everyone to see? The usual options aren’t exactly attractive. With that in mind, we created the Olive Server.

Olive Server | UncommonGoods

This innovative dish solves the pit problem, holds your picks, and displays those tangy, salty treats in style. To design the Olive Server, our Product Development Team partnered with Paul Brothe, a ceramicist who conceptualized the piece based on his love of nature-inspired ceramics, a modern, lead-free take on traditional Majolica pottery, and the goal of keeping pits unseen.

Sketches

When Brothe first presented his prototype, we loved that it was made of sturdy earthenware painted a natural green color, and provided a way to both serve olives and hide pits. From there, we made a few adjustments to make the Olive Server even more appealing to our customers who want practical serveware with a fun twist.

Original Prototype

While the original design featured a porcine, two-holed opening for depositing pits, we decided to give the pit cavern an oval shape and one larger hole. We wanted to make the piece really pop, but we didn’t want to detract from the realistic olive form, so we chose four colors to accentuate the incorporated shapes.

Process

The fruit-shaped basin is actually two parts. The bowl holds the pits, keeping them in one place for easy cleanup, while the lid keeps them under cover. We chose to line the bowl with a pimento-inspired burnt orange and give the exterior an olive green color. We also added a shade of green to the “leaf” where the olives sit and a branch-hued brown to the pick holder. Now each individually-functional element of the server is uniquely eye-catching, enhancing the look of the all-in-one display.

Olive Server | UncommonGoods

To create the finished servers, each piece is cast from a mold, inspected and trimmed, thoroughly dried, and then fired overnight at a temperature of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.

trimming_sqfired_sq

Two techniques are used to glaze these bisque fired pieces—dipping and brushing. The glazing is done by hand using special glazes formulated in-house at Brothe’s Jersey City, NJ studio, so the colors are truly unique. The colored servers are then fired overnight one more time, allowing the glazes to fuse together and create a smooth, glassy surface.

Glazing

The result is a high-quality dish that provides an attractive way to serve olives, keeps pesky pits out of sight, and is uncommon enough to stir conversation at any cocktail or dinner party.

Buy the Olive Dish | UncommonGoods

Design

How the Bike Tote was Born

April 30, 2014

When developing a product from scratch, we need to think through all of the details. We think about functionality and ask ourselves basic questions. When we created our Bike Tote those questions were: How will the bag hold objects? How much will it hold? How will it be secured? How will it be carried? What materials do we use to make sure the job gets done?

Here’s how we answered some of those questions.

Bike Tote | UncommonGoods

The tricky thing about this project was making sure the bag would fit the needs of a bike rider. Safety is integral. First, the bag needed to be well-secured to a bike’s handlebars without interfering with the front wheel.

How we made it happen: Sourcing the right buckles.

Bike Tote Buckles

This was our greatest sourcing challenge. We recognize that depending on the style of the bike or gears you have, strapping the bag on or off could be a challenge, so we made sure to source components that would work for as many bike styles as possible.

The buckles needed to open up so that we could completely detach the straps and fasten to any bike. They also needed to firmly and securely support the weight of the bag, without breaking, loosening, or slipping on the bike. After evaluating several different buckle and strap options, we chose these cam buckles.

In addition to securing the bag to the bike, we had to refine the cotton shoulder strap, making sure it made sense for a bike rider. We wanted to develop a true tote bag with a longer shoulder strap, but we didn’t want the strap to fly around in the wind or interfere with the bike in any way.

How we made it happen: A floating zipper.

Bike Tote Zippers

The zipper is isolated from the rest of the bag, which means the bag can be opened fully. It allows a bike rider to place the entire shoulder strap into the bag, with the zipper closed on top of it. The strap is securely tucked inside the bag, instead of hanging loose.

We know that when you’re on the road, dirt and gravel fly up, and things get pretty dirty pretty fast. We wanted to make sure the bike tote would stay as nice as possible, despite being an active bag.

How we made it happen: Black bottom panel.

Bike Totes| UncommonGoods

We lined the bottom of the bag with black fabric to hide any smudges. Remember – because of the buckles, the bike tote can’t be machine washed or dried, so hand-washing and line-drying are your best bets for keeping it in top shape.

As a final design touch, we wanted to help bike riders increase their visibility both from a distance and in the dark.

How we made it happen: Reflective tape around the bag. The strip of reflective tape allows for more visibility of riders as they cruise along and show off their very cool bike tote.

Safety first--reflective tape!

Testing the Bike Tote

Once the product met all of the criteria we outlined, we we needed to make sure it was truly road ready. To test it, one of our team members gave it a try on her road bike to make sure our claims were holding up. “I’m basically going to try and break it,” she informed us.

Weighs

In her words:

“I filled it with as much heavy stuff as I could. I started with books and when that didn’t break the bag, I tried weights (two 5 lb. weights) and large bottles (3 wine-sized bottles). The bag was a bit too big for the bike handlebars on the bike I was testing it on, so for the actual weight test I attached it to the bike cross bar and left it hanging overnight.”

The tote successfully held the weight, and we were pleased to find out that it is capable of transporting a lot of wine. (You never know when you might need to to perform just that function!)

Overall, creating the Bike Tote was fun, we got to work with awesome artists Jason Snyder and Briana Feola (who created the art featured on the tote’s fabric), and we can be proud that we developed a product that’s stylish, high-quality, and super functional.

Gift Guides

Your Graduation Gift Questions Answered

April 18, 2014

Graduation is a special time in one’s life, so I’m excited to answer a few questions finding the perfect gifts for students who are about to accomplish this important achievement.

What would you do paperweight

I’ve gained quite a bit of experience dealing with creatively designed gifts over the years—from my time as a strategy consultant overseeing a global internet retail research study (that’s when I met UncommonGoods founder Dave Bolotsky), to working in Customer Service (and reporting on company operations) for a holiday season at UncommonGoods in 2002, to joining the team full time (as opposed to consulting) as the head of Merchandising in 2006.

Somewhat out of necessity for creatively designed products that didn’t exist elsewhere, we began creating our own products in-house. As someone with a naturally questioning mind, an imagination for possibilities, a product instinct, and understanding of the creative design attributes that define an uncommon good, my responsibilities changed in the fall of 2011 when I become the Director of New Business and Product Development.

Many of the goods we develop here, as well as many of the items from the talented artists and designers we work with, make great gifts for graduation. Here’s my personal take on grad gifting and some suggestions for special gifts your grads are sure to love.

DIY Embroidery Cards | UncommonGoods

How is choosing a graduation gift different than picking out a gift for another occasion?
Unlike any other occasion, graduation, whether it is high school, college or a graduate degree, is a one-time event in any individual’s life—it is a specific accomplishment and also a milestone marking the end of one stage in a life and the beginning of the next.

What are some personal graduation gifts you’ve given in the past? What made them special?
I try to give gifts that have some meaning to the person—it may be something with an inspirational message, or a personal connection to the individual–and something I hope the person will want to keep.

My “go-to” item is often an inspirational paperweight—some of the ones that I’ve given more than once have been in our assortment for many years, like the What Would You Attempt Paperweight and the Be the Change Paperweight.

When my oldest nephew, a die-hard Yankee fan, graduated from college, he received a pair of Authentic Stadium Seat Cufflinks.

Yankee Stadium Seat Cufflinks | UncommonGoods

For the daughter of a close friend who graduated from high school I chose the Growth Necklace by Mary Steratore. It got a rave review!

Growth NecklaceNecklace Review



What could I give to my graduate’s good friends/classmates who are also graduating that is meaningful, but won’t break the bank? (From our Facebook friend Lora Frye Ross)

My suggestion is the 5: Life Playbook. Because it is a book, you have the option to inscribe a personal note on the inside. This is something that can be given for either high school or college graduation, with thought-provoking quotations and real-life examples that are both a spark and a road map for the next chapter.

5: Life Playbook
5: Life Playbook

Do you have a favorite new product (or products) that you think would make a great grad gift? What do you choose and why is it a great gift?
The Road to Success Paperweight is my favorite new paperweight we created–the combination of the road imagery as part of the design is inspiring and understanding of what life is about.

The Home Plate Paperweight is another great choice, for the same reasons, for someone who is also a baseball fan.

Paperweights | UncommonGoods

The most recent grad gift I’ve given was actually one of our newer products. I gave the She Believed She Could Bangle to the daughter of one of my best friends, who I’ve known all her life when she graduated from college. I felt that a bangle bracelet with this empowering quote was truly a keepsake for her.

She Believed She Could Bangle | UncommonGoods

For more inspiring goods to congratulate grads, visit our entire Graduation Gifts Collection.

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